HC Deb 17 June 1824 vol 11 cc1442-51
Mr. Secretary Canning

said, that according to promise, in moving that the House should resolve itself into a committee on the bill, he proposed to state shortly the nature of the negotiations out of which it proceeded. He took the liberty of doing this, because, although the bill was more immediately in the hands of his right hon. friend the president of the Board of Control, the treaties from which it-emanated originated when he (Mr. C.) had the honour to fill the office which his right hon. friend now held. In order to form a correct judgment with respect to the transactions which he was about to detail to the House, the situation in which the Dutch were placed with regard to East-India possessions at the last general peace should be called to mind. At that period all the possessions which had been taken from the Dutch during the war were, by- treaty, restored to them. He was not now called upon to discuss the policy or expediency of that measure; but if it were necessary, he was prepared to show, that, under the circumstances of the times, it was the interest of this country not to press too hard upon the Dutch government. But, for his present purpose, it was sufficient that what he had stated was the fact, and that the treaties by which the Indian possessions were restored to Holland received the unanimous approbation of parliament. In this state matters stood when he entered upon the office of president of the Board of Control, some time in 1816. At that time many stipulations of the treaties were only in the course of being carried into effect, and many others had been not very distinctly or definitively explained; so that many points were open for discussion between this country and the Netherlands. It had happened, unfortunately, that out of the natural eagerness of one party to get possession of settlements from which they had been driven by force, and the no less natural slowness of the other party to give them up, delays interposed, difficulties were raised, and a degree of ill-humour had grown up amongst the agents on both sides, which required great management and forbearance to appease. Much of this embarrassment was occasioned by the conduct of the subordinate agents of the East-India Company, who went further than they had any right to go. They took upon themselves to question the policy of the treaties by which the possessions had been surrendered to the Dutch, and looked rather to remedy what they conceived to be the error of the stipulations than to carry them into effect. He was willing to give the servants of the company credit for the patriotism, pride, or generous feelings by which they might have been actuated; but when agents, at a distance from their government, forgot, or departed from, the purposes for which they had been appointed, they imposed upon government the necessity of supporting at all extremities, and at whatever inconvenience, or of at once disavowing, their proceedings. He spoke within compass, when he stated, that in the course of 1816 and 1817, not less than half a dozen treaties were negociated by the individuals to whom he had alluded, without the shadow of an instruction for that purpose. He had felt it his duty to inform the East-India Company, that the Crown would withhold its sanction from all those treaties. About this period, repeated representations were made to him of the grasping disposition which the Netherland authorities showed, to drive the English out of the trade, and to retain the exclusive possession of it themselves. As was his duty, he constantly desired that a specific act of that nature should be pointed out to him, in order that he might bring it before the Netherlands government for its disavowal. His request, however, was never complied with. He could only obtain general assurance of the covetous disposition of the Dutch, and of their determination that we should never have a sail in those seas again. In vain did he call for facts, he was only met by an obscure kind of reference to the "massacre of Amboyna" [a laugh]. On the other hand, he received complaints from the Netherlands government of the tardiness of the British agents, and of a desire on their part to indemnify their country for the restorations of territory which their government had made. It happened, too, most unfortunately, that, at the time to which he was referring, an individual, in one sense most distinguished, who had exhibited great zeal and ability whilst filling the office of governor of Java (governor Raffles), was sent as resident to Bencoolen. Some how or other, however, the humble name of resident, which implied nothing more than a superintendant of pepper, was changed into the high-sounding title of lieutenant-governor of Bencoolen. The Netherlands government took the alarm at this circumstance, and imagined that the British intended to make Sumatra the seat of a government among the islands, equal in power to that which they possessed on the continent of India. Thus did ill-humour and angry feelings arise between two nations whose best policy it was, to remain on friendly terms with each other. The chief complaint against the Netherlands government was, that it acted on the principle of exclusive trade. The first step, therefore, which he had taken in the negotiations, from which the bill before the House proceeded, was, to obtain a disavowal of that principle on the part of the Nether-lands government. It was not, to be sure, usual in diplomacy to frame treaties for the purpose of recording principles, but as in the present case it was the only point at issue, it was done. By the same treaty Great Britain became possessed of Sincapore, and of about twelve islands which the Dutch possessed off the continent of India. Those islands were of no great importance in themselves; but there were many inconvenient questions of rights and revenue connected with them. For example, the Dutch asserted a claim to participate in the trade in opium, which we never allowed. When the English complained of the desire which she evinced to maintain an exclusive trade to those islands, they were apt to excuse themselves by a reference to the example of the English on the continent of India; by getting possession of the islands, therefore, we ceased to have any cause of complaint, and at the same time got rid of the tu quoque of the Dutch. The objects, then, which it was proposed to attain by the treaty were; first, the recognition of the principles of free trade; secondly the acquisition of Sincapore, and the ridding the Dutch of their possessions on the continent of India, and consequently of removing those grounds of irritation which would have existed, so long as the Dutch possessions had remained intermixed with ours. Every one of those objects had been attained by the treaty. In return for all these advantages, we had given up Bencoolen, and had agreed upon a line of demarcation between the British and the Dutch settlements. He thought he could convince the House that the cession of Bencoolen could not be considered a very serious loss by Great Britain. In so little estimation was Bencoolen held by the East-India Company, that they had actually mooted the question of its total abandonment; and they had resolved to retain it, not on its own account, but because it was not known into what hands it might fall. So far was Bencoolen from being of any advantage, that it was actually maintained at an annual charge of 85,000l. The only return which it was pretended the island could make for this expense was the production of spices. But it should be known that the Indian government had given the ground, furnished the plants, and paid for the cultivation of those very spices. Could it be wished that we should retain possession of Bencoolen on those terms? When it had been proposed, and most wisely in his opinion, to abandon Bencoolen altogether, without any return, it was a little hard that people should quarrel with government for getting something for it. He was aware it had been said, that in giving up Bencoolen we had furnished the Dutch with the means of carrying on a most valuable trade in spice. With that he had nothing to do, the Indian government having made the spice plantations after the treaty had originated. He believed, however, that the anxiety which seemed to be felt on that score would be abated, when it was known, that the East-India Company had now in their stores from five to six years consumption of every kind of spice. Under these circumstances it was not probable that the country would be exposed to the want of cinnamon—he meant to say of nutmegs and pepper. The mention of cinnamon reminded him that we had a monoply of that article. When it was made a matter of complaint against the government, it that they had not wrested more from the Dutch he really could not have the face to say that we had a right to expect more than we had obtained. How could we complain of the Dutch having a monopoly of spice, when we possessed a monopoly of cinnamon, opium, salt, &c? It might afford some consolation to those who had a particular regard for those savoury ingredients, to know that Sincapore was found to be particularly well adapted for the production of spices, and although it would take some time to bring the plantations there to maturity, yet, as the East-India Company had six years' consumption in their possession, the probability was, that unless some new appetite for spices should be created, we should have some of our own production before the stock on hand could be exhausted. He did not, however, suppose the Dutch would be mad enough to maintain the monopoly which had been found perfectly unprofitable up to the present period. He did not pretend to be a judge of the value of Sincapore which we had gained by the treaty. He only knew that, from the time when he first became connected with Indian affairs, Sincapore, had been pointed out to him as the unum necessarium for making the British Empire in India complete. It completely commanded the Straits of Malacca, which were a most important channel of navigation. In addition to this advantage, we had obtained from the Dutch a pledge to the maintenance of free trade, to a greater degree than had ever before been practised by any power in Asia, and had put a final extinction to the Dutch title on the continent of India. In return for these advantages, we had given the Dutch the barren settlement of Bencoolen which cost 85,000l. annually, and which it had been in contemplation to abandon. Surely such a price could not be considered too dear. He trusted that the House would be of opinion that nothing was done by the treaty which was inconsistent with the interest of the British possessions in India, or of those larger national interests to which the former were subordinate. The new possessions would be placed under the administration of the East-India Company, who would govern them under the same responsibility which attached to them in the administration of the other British Indian possessions. He would move, "That the Speaker do now leave the chair."

Mr. Hume

was of opinion it would ultimately turn out that the concessions which this country had made were of greater importance than the right hon. gentleman would have them appear. He condemned the policy which the right hon. secretary's predecessor in the foreign office had pursued, with regard to our Indian possessions. The noble lord, by giving up the island of Java, had not only, broken faith with the natives, whom he turned over, bound hand and foot, to the Dutch, but had inflicted a deep wound on our commercial interests. The right hon. gentleman had said, that it was thought right, at the conclusion of the war, to favour the Netherlands government. But, if that were to be the excuse for surrendering Java, why had not all the Dutch possessions been abandoned on the same principle? Why did England retain the Cape of Good Hope, Demerara and Essequibo. The cession of Java, he maintained, took place in utter ignorance of the interests of England, and to the great surprise and joy of the Dutch. Notwithstanding the ridicule which the right hon. gentleman attempted to cast upon governor Raffles, if government had acted upon the plans of that officer, they would have avoided those blunders which they had committed. Every act of our government in the East Indies went upon the very same principle which the right hon. gentleman had that evening turned into ridicule. He could never agree to the present bill, because the treaty which it ratified violated almost every other treaty which we had made for years past with the native powers. It was idle to suppose that this treaty would put an end to the heart-burnings and jealousies which we had had for years past with the Dutch. It might allay them during a period of peace; but they would revive in full vigour whenever hostilities should take place? It was said that we were getting rid of a monopoly. This he denied. The restoration of these islands to the Dutch would create as great a monopoly at the end of six years as existed before we had them, and would, besides, completely ruin many of our own planters. A spice plantation took about twenty year in coming to perfection. Now, several of our plantations had just arrived at that period of their growth in which they were most likely to remunerate the exertions of their owners. Would it not be a heart-breaking circumstance to those individuals, to find that all their efforts were rendered abortive? After abandoning the natives to the Dutch, it was not, perhaps, inconsistent to consent to the ruin of our own planters, for the sake of advantages which, in his opinion, were inconsiderable. Indeed, he would ask what were those advantages? Was it one of them that we had lost every port in the Straits of Sunda, and had thereby given up the command which we once possessed over the whole East-Indian Archipelago? It was true, we had obtained all the ports in the Straits of Malacca, and also the island of Sincapore; but as to the former, he would merely observe that a pig-stye was as good; and as to the latter we were in the possession of it before. If there was any meaning in this act, we had excluded ourselves from the whole trade of the Eastern Archipelago, and, by so doing, had deprived the nation of incalculable advantages. He then quoted several passages from Mr. Crawford's book on the Eastern Sea, for the purpose of showing the great extent to which our commerce in that direction might be extended, and proceeded to condemn the ministers for having sacrificed, by a stroke of the pen, all the advantages which might have been derived from that quarter. If the House wished to net with good faith, and to preserve the interests of the country, it could not accede to the bill. To pass it would be virtually to acknowledge the treaty to which it referred, and to give the House a chance, of escaping from such disgrace, he should move as an amendment "That the bill be committed on this day six months."

Mr. Robertson

condemned the treaty, and contrasted the negligence of the English negociators, with the precaution of the Dutch. By giving up Bencoolen we should greatly injure our China trade, which at present produced a revenue of three millions annually. The occupation of the Straits of Sunda by an enemy's fleet, would compel our China vessels to go by the way of New Holland, and would thus add to the usual voyage a distance equal to that from England to the West Indies.

Mr. Wynn

stated, that the passing of this bill would make no difference as to the execution of the treaty to which it referred, inasmuch as it had been already ratified, and guaranteed by the good faith of the country. The speech of the hon. member for Aberdeen referred rather to the treaty of 1814 than to the present treaty, as he did not seem acquainted with the places to which allusion was made in the latter treaty. He denied that, in case of war, our trade to China would be at the mercy of the Dutch. Bencoolen was not a fortification of any strength. When we were at peace with the Dutch, we were entitled by this treaty to friendly offices at Bencoolen; and when we went to war with them, he had no doubt we should be able to take it. He contended that we had not been guilty of any breach of faith to the native powers in ceding these islands to the Dutch, and further argued that the price of spices had not been increased, but, on the contrary, had been diminished by their cession.

Mr. Bright

opposed the bill, because he believed the treaty which it ratified to be a breach of good faith to the native powers and was only made by the Dutch for the purpose of being violated. He contended, that the islands ceded, were part and parcel of the property of the Crown of England, and that being such, they could not be ceded without the consent of parliament.

Mr. Astell

contended, that the treaty was calculated to put an end to all the differences which existed between the English and Dutch governments. He denied that it gave the command of the Straits of Sunda to the Dutch. As we had Prince of Wales's island at one end of them, Sincapore at the other, and Malacca in their centre, we had full command of those Straits, and therefore could not receive any material annoyance in our trade with China.

Mr. Trant

observed, that the arrangement which the treaty had sanctioned, had received the approbation of the commercial houses interested in the trade of the Indian Archipelago. The cession of the Dutch settlements on the continent of India was of great importance in relation to policy as well as revenue, and it would be highly desirable, by treaties with the French, Danes, and Portuguese, to obtain from them the cession of the other European settlements on that continent, which were much more injurious to us, than beneficial to them.

Sir C. Forbes

, in allusion to what had been said of the grasping spirit of the Dutch government in India, said, that in this respect there was not much difference between the Dutch and the English powers in that quarter. There were six of one, and half a dozen of the other. The ruling principle of both was rapine. In looking over this treaty he could consider it in no other light than as a division of spoil between the English and Dutch governments, in which no attention whatever was paid to the claims of the native powers. The arrangement had several advantages upon the face of it: but experience of the Dutch character had taught him to fear, that those advantages would not remain long in our possession. Indeed, he had that very day received information from Sincapore, containing an account of the success of the Dutch expedition against Borneo, which induced him to suspect that their designs upon that island would be quickly followed by similar designs upon Sumatra, and the other islands of the Archipelago which we had ceded to their tender mercies. Now he would ask the right hon. secretary whether, when he signed this treaty, he had any knowledge that the Dutch had sent an expedition against Borneo; and whether he would have signed it if he had known that fact? He regretted the precipitation with which our negociators had acted. If they had waited for the arrival of sir S. Raffles, which was daily expected, they might have escaped many of the errors into which they had fallen. He allowed that the intentions of our negociators were good, but contended that many of the provisions to which they had assented were not the most wise and prudent.

Mr. Money

highly approved of the treaty. In Borneo the Dutch had only a few military settlements at the mouths of rivers, and we were left at full liberty to trade with all that great island, abounding in the richest productions of the earth. The native trade to Sincapore, from the Eastern Archipelago, was very considerable. The; Dutch settlements on the Indian continent ceded by the treaty, had been represented as insignificant. Territorially they were so: but these settlements, fifteen in all, might be most mischievous as affording a refuge to disaffected subjects, and the means of clandestine trade. The settlement of Sincapore was becoming more and more important every day, and the country was highly indebted to sir S. Raffles for the fostering care with which he had superintended the planting of it.

The amendment was negatived, and the House went into the committee.